A Story of Transcendence, In A Backwards Sort-of Way

A Story of Transcendence, In A Backwards Sort-of Way

Watching my favorite morning show while exercising, I saw a segment on this amazing feat – long-distance running, backwards. I was totally intrigued with Justine Galloway’s ability to do this, and her subsequent story. I’m always interested in people pushing through their challenges and bringing forth their strengths to persevere and carry on in a thriving way. In Justine’s situation, finding an alternate way of continuing to engage in her passion despite…..is most inspirational and is the great teacher in showing us a mindset of unlimited potential.

I was thrilled when Justine accepted my request for a blog interview.

Harriet:  Your father is the source of your story. So why don’t we start with him. Tell us about your dad and his influence and subsequent legacy that you are living into.

Justine:   My dad was an incredible man. He had started running a few years before I was born and when he knew he was going to be a father again-he decided he ought to get in shape! He gave up smoking and ran his first marathon- NYC marathon in 1980, the year I was born. He would continue to run and as he trained for his marathons, he would include me in his cool down. I was maybe 4… He started putting me in fun runs at a young age and I absolutely fell in love with the sport and sharing it with my dad. He was my best friend!

When I was 6/7, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s-he was just 47. He would run his last marathon-Marine Corp Marathon, with Parkinson’s, in 1990 and he ended up in the hospital. He continued to progress with Parkinson’s Disease but never gave up on trying to find a cure. When I was 21/22-he went to Columbia Presbyterian in NYC to get DBS (deep brain stimulation)-that was after trying different clinical studies all over the country. He would go from a cane, to a walker, to a wheelchair. It became difficult to walk or get from the bed to the bathroom-or even get out of bed. In 2010, as his disease continued to progress, he still wanted to hear all about my running from HS, to college, to Boston Marathon- He was my biggest fan (and I was his).

He would end up in the hospital and later a nursing care at 69. The day he was supposed to be released, I got a call from my mom that he had passed. I was devastated and we all (my sister, brother and me) ran to his side to be by him and my mom.  My dad’s one wish to have his brain donated to Columbia Presbyterian. We didn’t fully understand why he had passed, but in order to honor his wishes we had to sign off on the death certificate within 24 hours and were unable to do an autopsy. His brain showed Lewy Body- a disease associated with Parkinson’s. I was devastated-I had wanted him to stay around for my 30s. There was so much more to do. I remember after he died, just running and getting lost in my run. He truly was amazing!

Harriet:  You certainly exemplify the old saying, “when there’s a will, there’s a way”. Tell us about ‘your way’ in light of your own medical condition.

Justine:  It took about 2 years to get diagnosed-all I knew is that I couldn’t run forward and at one point even walking became difficult. Having seen my dad live with Parkinson’s, I decided I needed to continue to move. I swam and biked- eventually I moved to California so I could move all year long. Prior to moving to CA, my PT had me run forward, sideways and backwards on the treadmill. I could run sideways and backwards but not forward. When I moved to San Diego. I was able to swim and bike but I felt like I was still missing something. I started running backwards on the sand, then on the sidewalks and streets. I started running for longer and longer. I joined a running group called WCRR. I eventually would run over 6 half marathons backwards- 2 of which were GWR (Guinness World Record) times. I would also run the NYC Marathon 2017 backwards for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. My way was backwards running- forward or backwards it was still running!!!

Harriet:  When I first heard about you (and your story), the words and ideas that came to mind were:  resourcefulness, creative, stick-to-itiveness, out-of-the-box problem-solver, not caring what others think, transcendence par excellence. Tell us about some of these qualities you clearly have, and other qualities that have gotten you to where you are in your running, and life in general.

Justine:  I appreciate those descriptions! The backwards running just seemed to be a way to still run which was my ultimate goal. I could have just given up-and said I had runner’s dystonia and maybe stop trying… But that isn’t a trait of any runner I know. So I decided to find another way to run. I used to care what others think and have been called a showoff and have gotten dirty looks on my run, but most people are beyond nice!!!! I have gotten to the point-where if others don’t understand why I run backwards-they should ask. And if it allows me to run- I will keep doing it for as long as I can.

Harriet:  Limitless is clearly how you live your life.  What do you say to people to encourage them to stretch and look beyond their circumstances?  

Justine:  Two things: One is, you never know what tomorrow will bring so live in the moment and say yes when you can! I never thought when I stepped to the line of the Boston Marathon, that would be my last race forward. If I could go back in time, I would have never stopped at mile 18. I would have walked to the finish line.  And mainly Live For Today and never take it for granted (which I too sometimes forget to do).

Two is, you are so much stronger than you think you are or than others say you are!!! Rather than listen to people who say you can’t, know you can! If not today, someday and in the meantime live today to the fullest!!!

Harriet:  Transcendence means being able to go beyond normal limits. It’s rising above one’s situation and living on well. Do you see yourself as a role model and inspiration for others to carry on beyond their adverse circumstances, and make something of their new normal? 

Justine:  My intention was never to be a role model but just to RUN!!! But being a role model and motivating others has been an amazing part of this journey! We are all going through something and if I can motivate someone to rise above their situation and live on well, then I truly am the luckiest person! And maybe there is a reason I got Runner’s Dystonia and started running backwards.

Justine hugs Michael J. Fox while running the NYC Marathon in 2017


how to find me

Long Island, New York
Call me: 516-214-4778